Labours of the Month: March

Pruning trees for March. Trin MS B.11.31

February having flown by, it is time once again to find out what we should be doing this month. Medieval manuscripts tell us that it’s finally time to get out into the garden. Our 15th century French Book of Hours, B.11.31, tells us that this month we should be out pruning our trees (eccentric head wear optional).  Meanwhile, the 13th century English Psalter, B.11.4, suggests planting or digging.

Digging and planting - Trin MS B.11.4
Digging and sowing/planting. Mind your toes! Trin MS B.11.4

In addition to the labours themselves helping locate where manuscripts are produced, scholars look at the differences between Kalendar tables, as different Saints’ Feast Days were prominent in different places. The Kalendar table from B.11.4 (pictured below) most likely places the manuscript’s production in London according to M.R. James. It features St. Cuthbert (c. 634 – 20 March 687), a cleric associated with Lindisfarne and Melrose, Northumberland, who was an important Saint in Northern England in the middle ages and is entombed at Durham Cathedral. His feast day is on 20 March.

The next day, 21 March, is the feast of St. Benedict (c. 480 – 543 or 547), who is most famous for establishing the rules for the Benedictine monastic order and is also the patron saint of students. Both of these dates are highlighted in the Kalendar table through rubrication – the use of red text to highlight a passage or date in medieval manuscripts. This is the origin of phrase ‘red letter day’, indicating that something particularly significant happened on that day.

Kalendar page from B.11.4 showing illuminated roundels and rubrication.
Kalendar page from B.11.4 showing illuminated roundels and rubrication.

The astrological sign for March is Aries, the ram, and the first sign in the Zodiac. The solar transit of Aries begins on the Spring Equinox, around 20 or 21 March (perhaps this is another reason for the two rubricated Feast Days on the page above). The equinox marks the point when the Sun appears to cross the celestial equator heading northward, making the days grow longer in the Northern Hemisphere and marking the first day of Spring.

Luckily, all that daylight means more time to get all of that pruning and digging done. Happy Spring!

Aries from Trin MS B.11.31.